A court battle over the acrimonious departure of Greens NSW campaign director Carole Medcalf over allegations of serious misconduct threatens to engulf the preselection battle to fill the NSW Parliament vacancy left by the late John Kaye.
One of the preferred candidates of the so-called “Eastern bloc”, James Ryan, has been named in explosive new court documents as a key player in an employment dispute brought against the party by the former campaign director.
Medcalf and the NSW Greens agreed in May of this year that she would leave the organisation in late June. However, the Greens terminated her employment just 12 days after the agreement was signed and booted her out at the end of May, accusing her of “serious misconduct”.
Medcalf was hired in 2014 to bring professional standards and corporate governance to the party as its campaign director. Her termination caused long-time party treasurer Chris Harris and four other committee of management officials to quit the party in protest. Multiple Greens sources close to the matter have told Crikey that the culture within the committee of management was, and is believed to still be, “incredibly toxic”.
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After Medcalf’s employment in the Greens was terminated, Medcalf filed a contractual dispute before the NSW Supreme Court at the end of June. An unredacted statement of claim by Medcalf, seen by Crikey, reveals the full extent of Medcalf’s — as yet untested in the court — claims against the Greens.
In her claim Medcalf says that she and the Greens entered into a deed of settlement in May for $91,000 with an agreed statement that Medcalf had decided not to continue working for the Greens after June 22. But then, 12 days later, Greens NSW co-convener Hall Greenland held a one-minute meeting with Medcalf in which she says he alleged Medcalf had asked a financial officer to increase the deed amount, and that as a result, her employment was terminated, and she would not be paid the amount in the deed.
Medcalf says in the court document that the financial officer she is alleged to have asked for more money denies that she did any such thing, and that Ryan was the only other person present. Medcalf says she has never been provided with evidence or a statement as to what she is alleged to have said.
“If any such statement does exist, then it is also deliberately untrue,” she says in the statement of claim.
Greens co-convener Debbie Gibson told Crikey the party had evidence to back up its claim against Medcalf, and the correct process was followed. The party previously told the ABC that decisions made by the management committee were done on professional legal advice and in accordance with Greens NSW processes.
Medcalf’s falling out with the Greens (and Ryan) dates back to at least October 2014, when Medcalf began raising concerns about Ryan — one of the key candidates in the NSW Greens preselection contest — when he was employed as the party’s planning and environmental law officer.
Medcalf found that Ryan was “under-performing” and needed greater supervision, but according to the statement of claim, when this matter was brought to Greenland and another Greens official, Astrid O’Neill, Medcalf claims she was told that Ryan was a “valued member of staff” who was expected to achieve success in the Greens, and that “unique and alternative ways of operating outside traditional management structures” would have to be put in place to allow Ryan to work.
Medcalf alleges in the claim that Ryan failed to provide monthly reports on his performance and his work standard continued at the same level until October 2015, when he applied for the position of campaign co-ordinator for the NSW Greens. Ryan was appointed to the position by a panel of three, including Greenland and Rhiannon.
According to the statement of claim, Ryan was given two staff, but one quit in February this year, alleging that Ryan failed to delegate tasks properly or communicate election plans or strategy to his staff. Metcalf claims that once Ryan was appointed into the position, she was ostracised and unable to properly perform her job. Medcalf alleges that Ryan and Greenland set up an email list string without her included, and in that string, plans were developed for how Medcalf’s employment was going to be terminated.
When Medcalf was fired, she claims she had no opportunity to address the claims that led to her being fired, and therefore the termination was unlawful. She alleges that the actual purpose of her firing was to remove her from the position, avoid having to pay the money in the deed, and to allow Greenland and Ryan to “go on spending monies from the Greens’ election reserve, without having to provide any accounting” to her to ensure the money was being spent properly.
Greenland told Crikey that Medcalf’s claims were “ludicrous”.
“All expenditures, for instance, are authorised by the Election Campaign Committee and cheques go through the treasurer and at least one other. Neither James Ryan nor I have any access to party funds. It is desperate stuff,” he said.
“In this matter the Committee of Management has acted at all times with legal advice. Since Medcalf’s departure the administration has run like clockwork.”
Greenland also rejected Medcalf’s claims about Ryan’s competency.
“No one in the party who has worked with him doubts his competence. Plenty of people will attest to that.”
Ryan also told Crikey that all the claims Medcalf made are untrue.
“They’ve been made by an employee who has been dismissed for misconduct, and I reject them. This is an ongoing beat-up. It’s not the first time it has come into the media, and in my opinion it is an attempt to damage my reputation.”
The case is due to go to court in October. Voting in the preselection to take the vacancy left by the widely respected late John Kaye will finish next week. Ryan is one of eight candidates from the Rhiannon-aligned group vying for the spot, with 14 candidates in total. Former Greens leader Bob Brown said last week he was concerned that factionalism was creeping into the party.